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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

'1941: Circuses and Rhubarbs' for Cliffs of Dover

It is 1941.

After the inconclusive battle that was Operation Sealion, Germany has turned its attentions to the East, initiating Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia.

In the West, just 226 German fighters, primarily those of JG2 and JG26, are left to defend against the constant threat of RAF bomber and fighter attacks. The RAF Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, Sholto Douglas, initiates Operation Circus - large scale bomber raids deep into France and Holland, with the intent of drawing the Luftwaffe into combat and reducing their ability to defend against RAF bomber command's planned incursions into Germany.

The Circuses and Rhubarbs mission pack Ch. 1

Chapter one available for download now as self installing file:

3 missions, all of which recreate historical events:

Flight of the Intruder
Operation Circus mission 1
A Knight Falls

Download the self installer here:

The Operation Circus mission recreates the first large scale air battle involving 2 wings RAF and 4 staffeln Luftwaffe over France in Jan 1941.

15 painstakingly populated airfields: Wissant, Peuplinge, Audembert, Marquise West, Caffiers, Hermelingen, Campagne Les Guines, Coquelles, Calais Marck, St Omer Wizernes, St Omer Arques, St Omer Claimarais / RAF Lympne, RAF North Weald

3 newly populated locations: Calais and Dunkirk Ports, Cassel

Ground targets include the above airfields, road traffic, port infrastructure. As usual, the mission can be fought from the point of view of every flyable unit, by using the CUSTOM button to choose your flight. Both grounds starts and air starts catered for.

This chapter comprises around 20 flyable sorties.

Screenies from "Flight of the Intruder"

From Operation Circus #1

From A Knight Falls


Intruder flight: Jan 09 1941

Early January 1941 was a quiet time for both RAF and Luftwaffe. Licking their wounds after the conflicts of 1940, both sides conducted only nuisance raids intended to probe the other's defences and provide recon information. Jan 09 was no exception. Although the RAF had sent a major fighter sweep over Calais earlier in the day, the Luftwaffe had declined to respond.

This sweep was followed by an Intruder flight by two of 23 Squadron's Blenheims, a small low level hit and run raid conducted in dim twilight conditions. In this raid however, one Blenheim was lost, with Pilot Sgt. Jones: KIA 1 and Sgts. G.E. Bessell and R.W. Cullen taken prisoner.

It was the last such raid before the RAF began its more intensive campaign of Circuses and Rhubarbs.

(In this mission you will have the opportunity to fly either the Blenheim mission, or a special operations mission in a captured Bf 110C 7. Luftwaffe flyables include Bf 109 E3 and E4s of JG26 and JG2.)

Operation Circus begins: 10 January 1941

Objective: Caffiers airfield west of Guines forest.

At the start of January 1941, the RAF began Operation Circus. Much renewed after the Battle of Britain, the RAF now comprised nearly 800 front line fighters, while in France, most Luftwaffe units were being stripped of aircraft and/or moved East for the coming offensive against Russia. A force of around 200 fighters from Luftflotte 3's JG 26 and JG2 were all that remained.

RAF commander in chief, Sholto Douglas, authorised his forces to begin aggressor raids into France to keep pressure on the Luftwaffe in the West. Their primary intent was to draw the Luftwaffe up to fight, through raids on Luftwaffe airfields and German reserves in France and the low countries. But if the Luftwaffe avoided combat, the intruders' orders were to destroy them on the ground. Any and all German military targets in France were considered appropriate.

Luftflotte 3 Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperle ordered his geschwader commanders to conserve their forces. They were not to respond to enemy fighter sweeps, or engage in fighter to fighter combat unless the odds were significantly in their favour. Daylight bombing raids were to be met in force, to ensure a high toll was inflicted on the RAF intruders.

In this mission Hurricanes from 242, 56, and 249 Sq fly close escort for a force of Blenheims, being covered by Spitfires from 41, 64 and 611 Squadrons. Opposing them are 6 staffeln from JG 26 and JG 2.

Rhubarb 1: 242 Squadron, January 12 1941

Objective: Attack targets of opportunity in occupied France

242 Squadron's 'Willie' McKnight, of Canada, came out of the Battle of Britain as one of its most successful aces, and by the end of 1940 he had 17 confirmed kills, two shared and three unconfirmed credited to his score. On two occasions he registered three kills (two fighter and one bomber) in one day.

Led by the famous legless ace Douglas Bader, 242 Squadron was relocated to Coltishall in November 1940, followed by a further move to Martlesham Heath in December. On 12 January 1941, the squadron began a series of offensive sorties against targets in France, first acting as escorts for Blenheim bombers then beginning on 12 January, the first of the "Rhubarbs," low-level intruder attacks on targets of opportunity.

While strafing an E-boat in the English Channel, P/O M.K. Brown accompanying McKnight, broke off as the duo came under fire from anti-aircraft fire from the French coast just as Bf 109Es of JG26 attacked. Brown made it back home but McKnight was listed as "missing." OKW records suggest McKnight fell to Fw. Helmut Brugelmann of Jagdgeschwader 26 (three kills), west of Boulogne.

Bader was distraught at the loss of McKnight and vowed revenge, but 242's "top gun" was never found.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review:WIck v Dundas add on to Cliffs of Dover

Desastersoft's Wick vs. Dundas
Time to Go Campaigning in Cliffs of Dover
by Fred "HeinKill" Williams


If real estate is all about location, location, location, then what is one key to creating a successful flight sim platform in the new millennium? Content, content, and… content!
777 Studies has driven a strong following for Rise of Flight through an innovative and continuous program of both free and user-pays downloadable content that started almost from launch. Many like it, some don’t, but 777 has built a hard core fan base and a very strong platform from which to grow their sim.

In these days of streaming movies, always-on WiFi and 24 hour drive-through everything, 777 with its Rise of Flight model has tapped into modern expectations for a constant drip feed of news and simming goodness.

On the other hand, there is the 1C IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover approach, which takes us firmly back to the 20th century.

Just to recap, the original IL-2 release came out in 2001, and it was not until two years later that the expansion Forgotten Battles followed. It was another year again until the Aces Expansion Pack and Pacific Fighters, and a full three years after that before 1946 hit the shelves in ‘07. And then nothing (if you don’t count user mods and the Daidalos Team patches) until Cliffs of Dover crept into the light in 2011.

So let’s get this stated up front. 1C is not a developer from whom you should expect a constant flow of new content, people! 1C has a strictly "last millennium" approach to building and marketing a sim platform. It will take YEARS between official releases. If you are looking for new content to keep up your interest in Cliffs of Dover, while you wait for the 1C dinosaur to lay a new egg, then you are going to have to turn to 3rd party developers.

Helmut Wick and wingmen in the Desastersoft Wick vs. Dundas expansion package for Cliffs of Dover.

Helmut Wick and wingmen in the Desastersoft Wick vs. Dundas expansion package for Cliffs of Dover.
The good news is, a highly creative German team has jumped into this void and is starting to crank out some very interesting content for IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover.

Their name is Desastersoft, and this article will review the first of their Cliffs of Dover add-on products, Wick vs. Dundas.
What Does Wick vs. Dundas Add?

Without the benefit of a 3rd party developer SDK (which 1C promised, but has not released), Desastersoft has been pretty creative in putting this package together. The Wick vs. Dundas package offers:
  • A career system with promotions and medals
  • 6 scripted campaigns, each between 20-50 missions
  • New skins and beautifully populated air fields and targets for the units featured in the campaigns: RAF 111 and 609 Squadrons, JG2 and Erpro 210.
Personally, I was most excited by the prospect of a career system being added to Cliffs of Dover, since it shipped without any dynamic campaign, and certainly no way to track victories or achieve promotions within the game. The new career mode for Rise of Flight (a free addition) has become my game mode of choice in that sim, and I hoped the same could happen with the Desastersoft add-on for Cliffs of Dover.

Purchase and Installation

The Desastersoft web site offers a choice for getting a hold of the Wick vs. Dundas package.
You can order a German language boxed DVD, or an English language direct download with payment via PayPal or credit card. The cost for the digital download is 17€ (~ $23 USD).
My German being a little rusty (!) I went the direct download route, and had an entirely painless process signing into the Desastersoft site, selecting my product, paying via PayPal and downloading the 600MB download.

Thoughtfully, Desastersoft has taken into account the current uhhh, "non-optimized" state of the sim, which can cause even modern PCs to run the game at low frame rates if there are large numbers of objects and aircraft being rendered. Users are given the option to install a low-fi (for low spec rigs) or a hi-fi (for hi-spec rigs) version of the package.
In the hi-fi version you get more of everything: more aircraft, more ground objects, more clouds — as long as your machin can handle it.

Pictured here is an example of the detailed airfield object features Desastersoft has added to the game.

I recommend starting with the hi-spec version. You can always uninstall and reinstall the low-fi version if you need to. I found the hi-fi version playable on my machine at medium graphic settings. Installation was very straightforward, no issues at all. Even better, the program starts from an update screen which prompts you to automatically update to the latest version, which was also a snap. I clicked UPDATE, waited a minute or two while it chugged through the latest 200MB update, and then clicked "Play" and it started Cliffs of Dover. I was then presented with the normal startup screen, but when I clicked "Single Player" I was greeted with a new menu option: "Desastersoft Campaigns".

New menu option: "Desastersoft Campaigns"

So far so good, a problem free install and update process. 


Desastersoft has made a nice effort to put together a detailed user manual that includes a description of the new campaign system, a historical background to the Battle of Britain which helps set the context for these campaigns, a code word glossary, German phonetic alphabet guide and target codes for the major RAF ground targets.

Does the world need yet another summary of the history of the Battle of Britain? I thought not, but this one is actually quite interesting, written as it is by a German developer. It busts some myths about Luftwaffe losses during the battle, and is actually a good read. 

If you get the boxed German language version, you also get a printed topographical map of the combat area, a sector map showing the main combat zones and printed version of the manual. Maybe worth buying for the maps alone?

The Channel Map

New Career System

The big innovation Desastersoft offers is a career system with promotions and medals for Cliffs of Dover. Desastersoft goes to pains to explain up front in the user manual, the principles behind how it awards points and promotions.

Desastersoft's Wick vs. Dundas
The first thing you need to know is that these campaigns are intended to be played on FULL REAL settings. And if you do play on FULL REAL, you get "normal" progress through the ranks as you complete missions and achieve victories. However for every REALISM option that you uncheck, you get a penalty. For example, if you don't use complex engine management and go with, say, basic realism options like limited ammo, external views, ground damage, air collisions, takeoffs and landings, stalls or spins, and limited fuel, you will get a 500% penalty. This means you need to overachieve the mission objectives by 500% to get the same career points as you would with full realism options checked.

The Desastersoft campaign selection screen. Here you can also see your "performance coefficient". If it shows 585%, as above, that means that where on Full Realism you may need to get 2 kills, at a 585% rating you would need to get 12 kills in the mission for the same ‘career points’! Fair? Definitely. Achievable? This is arguable.

To quote from the manual: "Choose your realism factor wisely because it has a considerable influence on the performance needed to win medals and promotions! A 50% surcharge means that you need 30 victories instead of 20 for the Knights Cross. A 150% surcharge then 50 victories and so on… the same for increases in rank."

Oh well. This effectively means the career system is not as much fun for non-full-real flyers like myself, which was a disappointment. 

The New Career System

As you go hunting with your wingmen, your victories will count toward promotions and medals. The more realistic your flight settings, the more points you will earn. 

I asked Thomas Voss, of Desastersoft, why they had designed the career system with "realism bonuses" this way. He replied, "Because nobody else does it. The main fun you can get in a simulation is to fly as real as possible. A simulation is not a game. A fantastic engine like Cliffs of Dover deserves a gameplay system such as this. Also the statistics between players should be comparable. If you manage five kills in full real it is very different than five kills using outside views, because you can never see where the enemy is. This must have an influence on promotion and medals. That is our way of gameplay. Many love it, some don´t like it. But this is and will be our way — sales figures are not everything. We pride ourselves on historic add-ons."

Dead is Dead

Another feature of Desastersoft career system that is worth mentioning is that it follows a "dead is dead" principle. This means that you can start a campaign, and fly your mission(s), but when your pilot is killed, your campaign is over. Finito. No changing to a new pilot. No appeal to a higher court. Personally I am fine with this, as I always do my campaigning on the "dead is dead" principle. But many other flight sim campaigns give the player the ability to decide whether they want to continue as a different pilot, or start over. Desastersoft has decided for you — you WILL start over. And you can't try any of the old simmer tricks like killing the program as soon as you die so that it doesn't record your pilot as dead — as soon as you see that black screen, Desastersofts campaign system marks you K-I-A!

So perhaps it is not such a problem that with the Desastersoft campaigns you can’t personalize your pilot with his or her own name and call sign etc. The game takes your user name from Steam as your pilot name. Anyway, there is no point becoming too attached to your pilots, because your hard fought campaign will only last as long as your pilot does!

The Campaigns

You have a wealth of material to work through in this package, with six scripted campaigns:

German Campaigns

Wick: 25 missions in a Bf109 E4 in which your goal is to beat Wick’s achievement of 43 kills between 10 July and 28 November 1940.

JG2: Flying as a flight leader in Wick’s Geschwader, in 40 missions you have to exceed 56 kills to succeed.

Erpro 210: 25 fighter bomber missions in the Bf110 C7 created from the actual flight log books of this famous unit. Comes in both a timed and untimed version. 

Major Wick's Screen
British Campaigns

Dundas: An RAF campaign, from the point of view of 609 Sq’s John C. Dundas 

609 Squadron: Similar to the JG2 campaign but from an RAF point of view where you will fly as a section leader in a Spit 1. You goal is slightly easier though — you only need 20 kills from 42 missions. 

111 Squadron: A Hurricane campaign starting during the Battle of France and eventually pitting you against aces like Moelders, Galland and Marseille.

Flight Lieutenant Dundas' Screen 

Are these "campaign success" criteria achievable? Exceed 40-50 kills in your 109 without dying? Get "only" 20 kills in your Spitfire 1? I will readily admit, not by me! But perhaps you are up to such a heroic challenge. For me, just surviving a campaign without dying is success enough. One of my pet peeves in scripted campaigns is the designer who decides that unless you "succeed" in shooting down 15 He111s in one mission, you have to perpetually repeat the mission until you do (are you listening Gaijin?!). Happily, the Desastersoft campaign interface allows you to either refly a mission if you fail or just move on to the next mission, though of course I would imagine you lose the benefit of any career points if you do this.

Mission Design

I won’t give any spoilers about actual missions, but suffice to say this is where Desastersoft’s experience in building missions for IL-2 1946 shines through. In general the missions are nicely scripted, using triggers, random elements and very credible mission success criteria so that missions are generally achievable, and enjoyable.

It is clear Desastersoft really enjoys making missions for Cliffs of Dover. Thomas Voss says, "Making missions for Cliffs of Dover is whole new world. Oleg Maddox told me first in 2007 (I think it was… Christmas, we were talking about our favorite Glam rock bands) about the possibilities for mission designers, and I couldn´t believe it. The main difference is the script thing. You can now do everything you want, if you have someone who can do the code. The Third Party interface is the key. If you understand how it works, you can, as you see in our expansion, do everything, without touching the engine. It´s genius. Maddox Games made an excellent engine. We made it into a game."

Each mission includes detailed maps with flight waypoints marked, and recon photos showing mission objectives.
Desastersoft has a love affair with the Bf110 and it shows in their Erpro 210 campaign.
Each mission includes detailed maps with flight waypoints marked, and recon photos showing mission objectives.
Each mission includes detailed maps with flight waypoints marked, and recon photos showing mission objectives.

The Desastersoft interface adds some nice details to campaign mechanics. If you crash or bail out over enemy territory, the game throws the dice to decide whether you make it back to your unit or not. If you don’t, it’s campaign over. If you do, you will skip forward in time a couple of missions to simulate your time out of action. One neat feature is that the campaign engine also models if you crash land on your own territory. Of course, you still have to get back to base, and your machine is usually damaged, so you also have to skip a mission. The same applies if you are wounded in combat — the severity of the wound determines how long you are out of action. All this delays your ability to gain promotions and medals, and of course, makes it much harder to achieve campaign victory in a shorter amount of time. 

Mission success is usually based on pleasantly simple criteria: e.g. destroy 2 enemy aircraft in 30 minutes. Timed missions can be a bummer if the time available versus goals are unrealistic, but time limits in Wick vs. Dundas are generally quite generous, though you can’t waste too much time on your takeoff routine because the clock starts as soon as you enter the cockpit! This is especially the case for the Erpro 210 dive bombing campaign, so the designers thankfully included an "untimed" version of the campaign to allow for you getting lost, trying to find the target, or getting intercepted en route. 

Another nice feature, thanks to the latest update, is that you have the option to play any mission in the campaign, and you can start your campaign at that point, rather than at the first mission every time. If for example in the 111 Sq campaign you want to skip the first couple of training-oriented missions, you can dive straight in at a later mission in the campaign.

In Desastersoft campaigns, you can start at any point, and then the campaign will run from there.
In Desastersoft campaigns, you can start at any point, and then the campaign will run from there.
Very useful for experienced players who want to skip the early training-style missions.

Another warning though for non hard core simmers: you will be "encouraged" to use your compass/map, and navigate. Using the in-game map with waypoint icons is regarded as a "cheat" and carries the dreaded "realism penalty". If you are flying for the RAF you will get simulated RDF (radar) vectors sent to you, which you are expected to follow. So get your pencil ready because this is what you will see:

Dover CH: Enemy Group A, more than 23, Vector 273, Sector S16, Angels 13, Distance 25

Got that? Good, because you can’t autopilot your way there without a realism penalty, so you have to work out the interception point yourself, or navigate yourself to the right sector if you have been ordered on a standing patrol.

The better you are at map and compass navigation, the better your career will progress in Wick vs. Dundas.
The better you are at map and compass navigation, the better your career will progress in Wick vs. Dundas.

Hard enough? Apparently not. Desastersoft has decided this would be too easy (!) so they have also simulated the imprecision of 1940s RDF which means there could be an error factor of up to 300% in the information. These guys are hard core! In the real Battle of Britain flight commanders always added 5,000 feet to the controller's estimate, to ensure they were on top of the raid coming in. In Cliffs of Dover, this is fine if you are over water where the enemy is easier to see, but if you are over land you will really struggle to find the enemy, so I found I gave myself the best chance in Wick vs. Dundas by going 5,000 low, not high, and looking for the enemy silhouetted against the sky above. Suicidal? Maybe, but at least you'll have a better chance of sighting the enemy! And let's face it, even though it is tweaked well by Desastersoft, the Cliffs of Dover AI is no ace, so you should be able to sneak up on the formation of 109s or He111s with a little patience...

609 Sq’s John C. Dundas


In its current form, to get the most out of this IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover expansion module, you need to be a hard core full realism simmer. If you are, then you will be able to enjoy the full promotions and medals component of the campaigns. If you are more interesting in the fighting than full-real flying, like me, your laziness will not win you many promotions or medals. But you will be able to enjoy a wealth of well designed content, and remember, content rules!

  • Ease of purchase, download, update and install
  • Good documentation
  • Adds new scripted campaign interface to Cliffs of Dover
  • Adds some cool new missions, object sets and skins
  • The price is very reasonable
Could Be Better
  • Career mode really only applicable to pilots flying full realism
  • Mission targets ideally require ability to navigate by map and compass
  • Campaign objectives are very very very hard (e.g. exceed 50 kills without dying)
My System Specs
  • ASUS GTX laptop
  • Intel i7 4GB RAM
  • Windows 7